San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Granada Antique Store Preserves Rich Past

Felicia Sandino’s Anticuario is exactly how a good antique shop should be: full of unique pieces authentic to the area, and overwhelmingly cluttered.

Turning sideways to squeeze between the antique pieces stacked one on top of another, Sandino runs her hand over the surface of one of her favorite tables.

“That’s original marble,” she says. “Very rare.”

Behind the table is an old row of wooden, fold-down “stadium chairs” that were taken out of Granada’s defunct Cine González, an old church pew taken from a remodeled nearby church in Diriomo, and a well-preserved wooden ice chest from the Nicaraguan brewery, still adorned with the fading painted emblem of “Cerveza Victoria.”

The adjoining room is packed as tight as a storage warehouse, with stacked antiques reaching up toward the cathedral ceilings of Sandino’s colonial Granada home, a relic in its own right. Filled with beautiful wooden pieces – cavernous, 8-foot tall wardrobes, ancient desks and colonial-style coffee tables – the store has antiques stacked on so many levels that sifting one’s way through the store feels a bit like exploring an old shipwreck; pieces need to be moved and slid aside to reveal other hidden treasures that lie beneath, at previously uncharted depths.

And when, after hours of rummaging, clients think they have seen everything for sale in the store, Sandino reveals that the antique cupboards are like Russian Matryoshka dolls – their doors are opened to reveal even smaller antiques inside, such as saints, plates, signs and other curiosities.

Thought to be the largest antique store in Nicaragua, Sandino acknowledges she doesn’t know how many pieces she has inside her densely packed store.

“I started to do inventory recently; I got to 600 pieces but I am still counting,” she says. Complicating her count is the fact that inventory changes quickly – desks, tables and statues of the Virgin Mary are sold to collectors, replaced by an old mirror, a decorative bench and a brass plate brought in from her antique pickers who scout out the best pieces from Granada, Masaya, Jinotepe, León and the “Pueblos Blancos.”

There are also some curious – and more expensive – pieces from farther afield: an old English-style, hand-painted glass cupboard that was brought in from the old Caribbean shipping town of El Rama; an ornate, handcarved Italian-style sofa; and a set of 130-year old, intricately painted French dividers, selling for $1,500. Another favorite piece, a 120 year-old three-foot virgin from Barcelona, was put aside for Sandino’s private collection.

Sandino comes from a proud family tradition of antiquing. Her brother, Harold, had what was once considered the best antique store in all of Central America.

Back in its heyday, 25 years ago, Harold Sandino’s Granada antique store, which used to occupy the entire two-story red house facing Piedra Bocona on Calle Libertad, used to draw a very high-end clientele of foreign diplomats, government officials and wealthy private collectors, including a Salvadoran man who would fly down to Nicaragua on his private jet to purchase rare antiques.

Many of the pieces at that time came from inside the homes of Granadinos.

“Everyone in town had some old antiques lying around the house,” she says.

But as the store made a name for itself, its international inventory grew. Harold made trips to Cuba and Spain and brought back a whole collection of unique antiquities, feeding his store’s international reputation.

Today, Felicia Sandino, who has been in the business for 15 years, says it’s getting harder to find antique pieces in town because Granadinos are now less likely to part with their antiques since they’ve realized that foreigners are interested in buying them.

“Before,” Sandino says, “people treated antiques like old pieces of junk they had laying around the house. But today people realize that they are worth something, and so they are less willing to part with it.”

As a result, the prices of antiques have gone up, she says. But in comparative terms, the prices at the Anticuario are still very accessible – many desks and furniture pieces sell for less than $500 (sometimes cheaper than a comparably sized new piece of furniture) and wardrobes are priced anywhere between $200-$2,000.

Sandino also sells some replica furniture that is made from old wood and pieces that are too battered to salvage. But for the inexperienced antique shopper, Sandino says she always tells folks what is antique and what is replica or restored.

As more people buy and restore old colonial homes in Granada, Sandino has also started to salvage valuable odds and ends from old homes. For real antique junkies, Sandino has a collection of old colonial door hinges, latches, blacksmith-pounded iron nails, antique picture frames, “tragaluces” and various other wood carvings.

With some of the recycled material she has become quite creative, turning old handcarved wooden columns into pedestals and converting old wooden doors into coffee tables.

“In a lot of the old homes that are being restored, people take the old stuff to replace it with something new, but many of these pieces are still useful for something,” she says.

Sandino’s eye for detail has also led some foreigners to hire her to redecorate their homes in a traditional, colonial style – a service she is also willing to provide.

For foreigners who visit Granada and are enchanted by the colonial details, El Anticuario is definitely worth a visit. It is a unique place that allows people to buy a piece of history – an antique piece of furniture from the oldest continuous colonial city in the mainland Americas.

If you can’t turn these antique living room decorations into conversation pieces with house guests, then you’re not much of a conversationalist.

El Anticuario is located in downtown Granada, on Called Barricada, two blocks south of El Club. The store provides shipping to Costa Rica.

For more info, call (505) 552-4677.


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